Scout’s notebook: Thursday review

Here are my initial reactions to the performances of some of the nation’s top prospects in Thursday night’s West Virginia-Colorado game.

QB’s decision-making must improve

While watching West Virginia QB Jarrett Brown, you can’t help but marvel at how physically gifted this kid is, the way he breaks tackles on the move and effortlessly throws the football. However, as I wrote Thursday, I wanted to see how decisive he was in the pocket when opposing defenses brought pressure, and the result wasn’t pretty. Brown was sacked three times, and any time he felt pressure, his head dropped and he looked to run. On top of that, he consistently forced the ball down the field into coverage and was content to stare down his initial receiver until he opened up. There’s certainly some upside to Brown’s game, and if an NFL team wants to take the time to develop him, I think he has the ability to possibly mature into a David Garrard-type player, but that looks like the ceiling for his potential.

Devine is fine with me

The question was posed in the ESPN broadcast booth about West Virginia RB Noel Devine’s impact at the next level and what kind of role a 5-foot-7 back can have. Well, after watching him make the Colorado defense look like it was running in Jell-O every time it tried to catch him in the open field, it’s safe to say this guy can be a real X-factor for an NFL offense. We know the speed and explosion are there, but what stood out to me were Devine’s patience, vision and change-of-direction skills inside the box. The way he allowed his blocks to set up in front of him before exploding into daylight on his 77-yard first-quarter run was an NFL-caliber read. He’s also showing more of a willingness to effectively run the ball inside and take what the defense gives him between the tackles. Devine still has a tendency to get caught dancing in the backfield trying to create something out of nothing, but he looks like a guy who can really enhance a team’s offense and special teams. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him go toward the end of round one.

He still has a long way to go

Colorado LT Nate Solder left me scratching my head. He’s made very little improvement to his footwork and technique since last year. You can tell he’s a former tight end by the way he lines up in pass protection, as he exhibits good flexibility but coils up as if he’s trying to release off the line and get into a pass route. Then, he simply stands straight up off the snap, extends his long arms and uses his athletic ability to protect the edge. He’s still very raw with his kick-slide, which causes him to get overextended with his footwork and lose balance on contact. He’s consistently susceptible to the inside move and lacks the power to stay on linemen once they gain a step on him. Solder is a gifted athlete in space and showcased better pop and power as a run blocker than I expected, but he’s still at least couple years away from being NFL-ready. He possesses the skill set to impress scouts, but it’s likely in his best interest to return for his senior year.

<strong>On the bright side

There’s reason for optimism in the future of the Colorado football team, especially when watching the play of the right side of their offensive line. Freshman RT Bryce Givens and sophomore RG Ryan Miller looked very good up front and have an impressive blend of size, athleticism and length for their respective positions. Givens in particular looked smooth and technically sound off the edge in pass protection using his hands to stay inside on blocks and cleanly redirecting in space. Miller, on the other hand, did a nice job staying on opposing linemen in the run game and was surprising fluid on the move. Both prospects are worth keeping an eye on in the future as they possess the ability to mature into NFL-caliber linemen.

What to make of Capers?

West Virginia right tackle Selvish Capers did a nice job off the edge and was consistently able to reach the corner, remain balanced and redirect in space. He possesses good length for the position and looks natural when asked to pull and hit a moving target down the field. However, I still don’t think he has the power or strength to be effective on the outside in the NFL. As I’ve said before, if an NFL offensive tackle lacks strength, he makes every defensive end he faces look like a good pass rusher. And that’s why I worry about Capers. Any time he gave up penetration in the pass game, it came on a hard inside move where the opposing defensive lineman was able to fight his way through and come up underneath. Plus, when watching Capers try to create a push as an in-line run blocker, he had a tendency to get too upright into blocks and really widens his footwork on contact. He lacks ideal lower-body strength and I think he projects best as a zone-blocking scheme guard at the next level.

Quick hits

• You can’t help but be impressed with the play of Colorado wideout Scotty McKnight. He lacks ideal size and burst out of his breaks but is a smooth athlete who knows how to sell his routes and catch the football. McKnight did a great job working back toward the quarterback all game and displays the type of short-area quickness to slip press coverage and cleanly get into his routes. He probably isn’t going to be a starter in the NFL, but a solid pass-catcher like McKnight is a nice guy to have when filling out a receiving corps.

• It was West Virginia’s Devine who stole the show, but how impressive was Colorado RB Rodney Stewart? He had 21 carries for 105 yards and displayed impressive lateral quickness, burst and vision between the tackles. Stewart, like Devine, is undersized at 5-6, 175 pounds, but he does a great job keeping his pad level down and really runs hard for his size.

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